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Syracuse should stay the course on dealing with school suspensions (Commentary)

May 12, 2014

from the article on

...The spirited discussion in our community on how public schools use and overuse suspension and about the differential rates of suspension of students of particular identities (e.g., males, females; race, disability, ethnicity) continues. While there are dangerous and inappropriate behaviors in schools, data show that many suspensions do not come from the most dangerous behaviors, but from an over-use of suspension for more minor infractions. This is a national issue, but the data showing that Syracuse City School District (SCSD) has a disproportionate number of suspensions compared to other urban districts is a compelling reason why change is needed. The attorney general's participation in this issue signals the high stakes involved, further necessitating moving away from an over-reliance on suspension.

Data show that suspension is not in our best interest

Over 20 percent of SCSD students in the last three high school cohorts were suspended. Black, Latino, and Native American students as well as students with disabilities are suspended at much higher rates than their peers. There is a strong relationship between being suspended and not completing high school. The SCSD data show that the students who are suspended graduate at much lower rates. For example, in the SCSD cohort class of 2013, about 58 percent of students who were not suspended graduated, but only 34 percent of students who had one suspension graduated, and only 12 percent of students who had been suspended four or more times graduated. Some may argue that these are students who would not graduate anyway. But, we cannot afford to write off any of our young people, let alone one in five. It is not a morally or economically acceptable position given the relationship between graduating from high school and more positive life outcomes. This widespread pattern leaves too many young adults with bleak economic prospects, weakening the community in turn.

There are no quick fixes to the issue of suspension and over-suspension, yet we must address this with deliberate focus and humility. We cannot blame away this problem by saying it is the teachers' fault or the administrators' fault or the students' fault or the families' fault. We cannot send students away and hope that the issue fixes itself. We need a sustained commitment to keeping kids in school while making schools safer and more productive. This is not easy work and this issue will not change overnight. We are hopeful to see the SCSD move in the direction of restorative justice. Restorative justice approaches have been embraced nationally by other school districts with disproportionately high suspension rates. Over time, these approaches have helped to make schools safer and more productive.

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